Courtesy of Rabbi David Goodman
Rabbi Goodman’s 2022 graduation from rabbinical school. (Courtesy of Rabbi David Goodman)

The option of doing something Jewish had become increasingly appealing to Goodman over his years in Detroit, which he describes as “the place where I came of age Jewishly.”

Rabbi David Goodman
Rabbi David Goodman

What do you do next when you retire after a long and successful career? David Goodman faced that problem when he completed his career as a journalist in Detroit with Associated Press. Surprising even himself, Goodman registered at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, Pa. He graduated in 2022 and now works as the rabbinical leader of Nafshenu, a Jewish community in Cherry Hill, N.J., across the river from Philadelphia. 

How that happened is a long story. 

Goodman first came to Michigan as a student at the University of Michigan. After graduation, he moved to Detroit in 1979, working as journalist for United Press International, then for the Flint Journal before beginning his long tenure with Associated Press in 1984. His retirement from AP in 2015 left Goodman with the question of what to do next. 

The option of doing something Jewish had become increasingly appealing to Goodman over his years in Detroit, which he describes as “the place where I came of age Jewishly.”  

Growing up, Goodman had a strong connection with Judaism. “I was active in NFTY (the National Federation of Temple Youth),” he recalls. “I was an exchange student in Israel for a year of high school.” 

In 1969, he took part in Torah Corps, an advanced Torah study camp experience. But then he became less involved. “I was not a joiner. And I was also not enamored of the classical Reform-style service,” he says.

When, as a young parent, Goodman read about a new congregation in Detroit that was innovative and lay-led, “that appealed to me,” he recalls. So, carrying his 1-year-old daughter and holding hands with his 6-year-old son, Goodman ventured into Congregation T’chiyah . . . and stayed. 

Goodman says, “I reconnected with Jewish life when I brought my son to Congregation T’chiyah.” 

He adds, “I became an active member, and then a member of the board and then the ritual chair, and I led a lot of services. That reconnected me to the religious aspects of Judaism.”

But he wanted more. “I had seen a lot of not-good davening in Jewish spaces.,” he says.

He knew there could be emotionally intense services with beautiful music. So, contemplating retirement, Goodman signed up for the Davennen’ Leadership Training Institute, “a training program for cantors and rabbis in the Renewal movement, but also a standalone enrichment program for people of all kinds.” 

The Davennen’ Leadership Training Institute at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Connecticut involves participants in four weeklong sessions at a retreat, developing intellectual and emotional experiences of Jewish prayer, with follow-up programs throughout the two-year program. As he watched other participants prepare to become cantors or rabbis, Goodman felt some envy. 

He enjoyed the idea of advanced rabbinical studies, thinking, “Wouldn’t it be fun!”  But he felt misgivings about applying to rabbinical school. Would it be fair to ask the rabbinical school to give him access to “all these great teachers and learning opportunities” when a younger person could expect to serve in the rabbinate for far longer? 

People at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College replied, “We have got plenty of extra chairs.”

Starting a New Journey

The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College is the sole rabbinical school operated by the Reconstructing Judaism movement. Congregation T’chiyah is affiliated with this movement. 

So he applied, was accepted, and completed the curriculum in seven years. 

ABOVE AND RIGHT: Rabbi Goodman’s 2022 graduation from rabbinical school.
Rabbi Goodman’s 2022 graduation from rabbinical school.

Celebrating Rabbi Goodman’s graduation, Rabbi Melissa Heller, director of admissions and recruitment at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC), reiterated the school’s commitment to older students: “The RRC student community is diverse and inclusive. We strive for and celebrate that diversity, seeking to mirror the Jews and the communities that our rabbis serve. Second career students have always been a part of that diversity.”

This year, Heller explains, about 10% of the current incoming class consists of rabbinical students in search of their second careers — though not all are in their 60s.  

Goodman reflects on the opportunities and challenges facing rabbis in America now: Years ago, people belonged to synagogues just because; even people who didn’t attend services belonged to synagogues. 

Now, he says, “if young people are not going to a synagogue, they won’t join. There’s no reason to if they’re not going. And that’s good. The challenge for us and for the emerging corps of rabbis is to foster a Jewish community that people want to belong to, a place with music and learning where people want to be Jews.”

And the community should welcome not only Jews. 

“A lot of people come into Jewish space because of personal curiosity, the same way some Jews do to end up at the Unitarian Church or the Quaker meeting. A lot of people of Christian background come, but most often they come in because they’re investing their lives in a partnership with someone of Jewish background,” he says. 

“They’re not necessarily going the Ruth route: ‘Your people shall be my people; your God shall be my God.’

Goodman continues, “I want to believe that the emerging Jewish community is going to open. They are going to be very Jewish, but they’re going to be very open and welcoming to the people who are there for whatever reason, and only one of those reasons is ‘my parents happen to be Jewish.’ 

“We should be open to people who say, ‘My husband is Jewish and we decided to raise our kids with a Jewish identity’ or ‘I like the book club’ or ‘I like the music’ or ‘I like the Torah study’ or whatever the variety of reasons. So, I think we should build towers and not so much walls. We need wide open doors.”

Goodman saw some of this openness in the Jewish community of Detroit: “The non-Orthodox congregations work together easily, without significant barriers,” and, he says, the Orthodox community in Oak Park “seemed to be relatively ‘barrier free’ to the various flavors of traditional Judaism, from Or Chadash to Young Israel to Dovid Ben Nuchim to Chabad, all of which I experienced at one time or another.”

Goodman notes he still has strong connections to Detroit — “I have a daughter, a son-in-law and grandbaby.” 

Rabbi David Goodman with his grandson Saul Mondry in Detroit
Rabbi David Goodman with his grandson Saul Mondry in Detroit.

Susannah Goodman, the daughter whom he carried on his first venture into Congregation T’chiyah, now serves as deputy director of Detroit Jews for Justice (which her father describes as the social justice project of Congregation T’chiyah). She and her husband belong to T’chiyah and to the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue. 

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